The best advice I can give for taking edits is don’t be a diva.
Yes, diva can be men, and, yes, that behavior can be true of people in any career (not only music). It’s more likely to pop up in the arts since artists often put more of themselves in their work and have a more personal stake in the work itself (not just the paycheck). I’ve also seen it in insurance, sales, teaching, and even retail.
In terms of writing, though, what does it mean to be a diva? Well, it comes up the most when it comes to taking edits well. Or, rather, not taking edits well.
With copyediting, this is not usually a problem. We all miss commas and whatnot, and we’re usually more than happy to fix them. When the criticism suggests changing a name, scene, or part of the plot, then, that’s harder to swallow. Whether the critique is from an editor or a writing circle you’re working with, anything that suggests your story needs to change is almost insulting at first (or it may feel that way).
No matter who’s giving you criticism, here are 5 tips to keep yourself from reacting like a diva.
- Shut your mouth.
Especially when you’re getting face-to-face criticism, it is really hard not to argue. Unfortunately, when you argue, you’re giving the impression of a diva who cannot take criticism (true or not, that’s the impression people get). If it happens more than once or twice, people aren’t going to want to give you feedback. Feedback is valuable, so you don’t want to get to the point where no one will give you any. I know it’s hard, but if you can keep your mouth shut while they give the criticism, you’re at least keeping the door open for later feedback.
- Rant in private.
For many of us, the first response to big critiques is anger and frustration. Ranting to a friend is a great way to relieve that knee-jerk reaction. And once you get it out of your system, you’ll be able to consider the suggested edits with a more open mind; however, you want to make sure you do your venting somewhere where no one else can hear the extreme things that fly out of your mouth – like how stupid or ridiculous your editor is for not understanding your work.
Having someone other than a trusted friend hear this can undo all the good of keeping your mouth shut during the critique. Not to mention that having someone’s iphone vid of your rant online is not going to help your relationship with your editor. Don’t blow all your hard work by starting to rant in the wrong place.
- Think about the problem.
Even if you don’t think it’s a problem, at least consider what the person said. Think about it. If many people say the same thing is a problem, think about it hard. You may decide to leave it as it is. You may decide to make one of changes they suggested. Most likely, if you decide to change anything, you’ll do it in your own way (one that you like better than their suggestions).
Considering possible flaws in your work is the exact opposite of diva-like behavior. It can earn you points with authors, agents, and editors (this person reacts in a mature, adult manner when faced with criticism). It also means you have a better chance of making your work as good as possible. You’re not in the writing circle to hear everyone praise how marvelous your work is. You’re there to make the work better.
- Ask intelligent questions.
If you’ve thought about what the person said, and you can’t see any problem with that part of the work, you may want to go back and ask them for clarification. This is most important if you trust the critic’s opinion or if the critic has some power over publishing your work (like an editor).
By “intelligent” questions, I mean questions to pinpoint exactly what the problem was for them (not inflammatory or accusatory questions: not “Didn’t you notice that on page 3 in paragraph 4, the main character mentioned ___?”). Try to stay calm. You’re gathering information, not calling people out on not understanding your brilliant masterpiece.
- Pick your battles.
This tip is aimed more at edits from your editor, and it’s something you’ll probably hear often. Here’s where you have to find the balance between getting published and staying true to your vision. If you can make the edit without disturbing your vision, it’s probably not worth fighting over. If the change affects not only this book but each following book in the series, then you probably want to fight for it.
To clarify, when I say, “fight,” I mean “argue persuasively.” Think of it as a negotiation. You offered one option. The editor refused that option and made a counteroffer. Now, it’s your turn again. My best advice is to remember that you’re not limited to the two options already on the table. If you can think of a third option (such as a compromise) that you’d be happy with, try that one. The questions you asked to help you better understand the issue can be very helpful here – you can better aim your adjustments to fix the flaw.
That’s not to say that all editors will work this way. Some may simply say that this is a problem – fix it. Then, you fix it however you choose to and turn it back in. The main point is not to argue with every change suggested.
Taking edits without acting like a diva can be hard. Even recognizing that you’re being a diva can be hard. Following these tips can help you from going down that road – knowingly or not.